Chronic diseases like arthritis and the effects of aging on physical activity levels, strength, and balance can all lead to reduced mobility in seniors. Just because they may have some degree of doesn’t mean older adults don’t still have regular errands like medical appointments, trips to the grocery store, pharmacy runs and other healthcare-related necessities, or visits to loved ones. Transportation for seniors can be challenging to navigate, but luckily, current technology is making it easier and faster to get a loved one safely where they need to go.
Standard transportation options such as the metro or bus may not be feasible given the health and range of mobility of a given elderly person. There are other options, though, such as paratransit services, ridesharing apps like Lyft or Uber, or volunteer drivers who are happy to help seniors get around.
Emergency transportation to a doctor’s appointment or the emergency room might be covered under Medicare/Medicaid or private insurance providers. These types of plans might even have some allowance for transportation options, including ridesharing apps. For older adults who aren’t able or just prefer not to use smartphones, there are other apps like GoGoGrandparent that will allow them to use rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber in the USA by calling one of a pair of phone numbers.
Security is one of the biggest concerns most people have when they use one of these transportation options for a loved one. Rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber typically display the make, model, and license plate of the car. Family members can see exactly where their loved ones are through the app and set an exact pick-up and drop-off point. Some private transportation options even have door-through-door service, which means the driver will help elderly fares to the front desk or lobby of a building.
Finding transportation for seniors can be worrying, but it doesn’t have to be. Read on to find out all the different ways to help seniors with limited mobility continue their daily routine safely.
Beyond directly impacting their ability to move around on their own, loss of mobility can also have lasting repercussions on elderly people’s mental health, social life, and physical wellbeing. In fact, as this study mentions, mobility is a crucial determinant of health and quality of life among elderly people.
If the loss of mobility is less severe, like minor arthritis, then it might only prevent the elderly person from walking sometimes. However, more serious medical conditions or loss of strength can cause elderly people to stay inside all day. If loss of mobility leaves someone stuck sitting down for most of the day, the amount of lean muscle in their body will continue to dwindle, meaning their mobility level will be on a continuing downward slope.
In the most severe cases, the inability to get up and go to the restroom can lead to physical problems like UTIs or body sores. People weren’t meant to stay inside all day with little contact. As elderly people with limited mobility lose touch with friends and loved ones or go through entire days with little to no stimulation, they can quickly become depressed. That can have adverse effects on their appetite, leading to many other health problems.
Finding transportation for seniors is not just about getting their errands done. It’s the only way to make sure they can continue truly enjoying their golden years the way that they want to. For some seniors, a loss of mobility reduces the activities they can take part in. But there are still plenty of ways for them to get around.
Navigating a metro or bus system can be frightening for elderly people. Unlike private transportation, the other people on public transit systems won’t necessarily concern themselves with the needs and conditions of elderly people sharing their bus or train.
In the United States, most cities have buses if they have any public transit available at all. However, in some places, there are additional public transportation options. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has set forth requirements for fixed-route public transit, making it more accessible and easier to use. For older adults who are able, one of the following might be a great way to get around:
Your city might have bus routes, light rail, or streetcars to help people traverse a few blocks or several miles. Many people may not be familiar with how the public transit in their system works, but the ADA lays out some standards that make buses, rail, and stations much easier for older adults. For example, the ADA says every public transit facility must have accessibility equipment like lifts, ramps, and security devices to keep wheelchairs from moving.
Signs and communication devices (i.e., stop announcements) must also be clear and accessible to everyone. They offer braille and large print options. As long as the elderly person is capable of navigating the route, there are many ways that public transit has been made accessible thanks to the ADA.
In the USA, only about 15 cities have subway systems. In some cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, the commute time can be twice as long on the metro than it would be with private transportation. However, in larger cities like New York City and Chicago, the subway can be the fastest way to get around. It may seem scary sending an older loved one off on a metro train. Still, these forms of public transit are also obliged by the ADA to give priority seating and accessibility options, just like the above-ground transportation options.
The most important consideration to make with regards to public transit is whether an elderly person has had experience with navigating such a system before. If they have never lived anywhere with a subway, sending them into the cavernous NYC Subway is probably going to overwhelming. However, if they took buses and trains in their younger years, continuing to use them while they’re able could not be the best way, but it could also be a comfort to them to take public transit.
Vans specially tailored for people with impacted mobility are mandated by the ADA, albeit only where fixed-route services already exist. It’s up to the specific public transit area agency to decide whether they want to offer door-to-door service or curb-to-curb service. If an elderly person does have extreme difficulties getting from the curb to the door, or if there are barriers in the way, the driver may also be obligated to help them to the entrance or lobby of their destination.
These paratransit services are only required to cover a distance of ¾ of a mile past either end of an existing fixed-route service, so they’re only handy in cities that have a robust public transportation system. However, they are specifically aimed at elderly people who have suffered a loss of mobility or have a disability, so if they are available, they’re a great help.
Besides public transit, there are many private transportation options to help seniors go about their daily business, visit loved ones, and go to doctor’s appointments. Here are some of the most convenient ways for older adults to travel:
The gig economy is still in its infancy, but companies like Lyft and Uber have made it easier than ever for a car to pick up riders at their doorstep and take them to a specified drop-off point. They are geared toward people who can use a smartphone, but services like GoGoGrandparent allow elderly people to use Lyft and Uber by calling a phone number rather than having to learn how the app works.
Most of the time, Lyft and Uber rides function as private transportation, meaning there won’t be anyone else in the car other than the rider. For elderly people, a caretaker or loved one can ride along without any added expense. These apps are generally inexpensive, usually costing less than a taxi, but there are fare increases at peak hours. As a fringe benefit, the elderly person will have someone to talk to during the ride.
One beneficial thing about rideshare apps is that they might be covered by Medicare/Medicaid or private insurance. Frequently, to provide non-emergency transport to the insured without ado and at the lowest possible cost, the insurance company will call an Uber or Lyft driver. That means the insured won’t have to bother with an app or a phone call, and the insurance will get billed.
Perhaps the first idea many people think of when they need fast transportation, traditional taxis can still be hailed by phone and trips scheduled in advance. However, in many places, taxis have fallen behind rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber in terms of technology, which means they might be difficult for elderly people to use. They’re often quite expensive.
If the cost is not so important, then taxis can be a great form of non-emergency transportation for short distances. Like public transit, taxis are most appealing to elderly people who have spent their lives riding in taxi cabs.
Many municipalities provide a service where senior citizens can schedule a pick-up and drop-off with an accessible vehicle. Usually, there are many people with individual pick-up and drop-off points, so these are different than the paratransit option that depends on the existence of fixed-route public transit.
If there is no public transit available, demand response might be the best option. For example, Santa Barbara, in California, doesn’t have a metro, but it does have a bus system. To use the Dial-A-Ride service there, people must be physically or mentally unable to use the bus service. That way, it’s guaranteed the service reserves to help seniors who need it.
For Medicaid beneficiaries who need help getting to medical appointments, the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) Medicaid provides is likely to be the best way to get to the doctor. Medicaid doesn’t require pre-approval for emergency medical transportation like ambulances or medical aircraft. They do, however, pre-approve the type of destination that NEMT will cover.
While it only works for transportation to doctor’s appointments, hospitals, and other pre-approved locations that have to do with health care, it’s convenient for elderly people who are already covered by Medicaid. If they are covered, NEMT is the only transportation service that is free for Medicaid beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the same coverage is not offered to Medicare beneficiaries.
Local and state governments are typically involved with the implementation of transportation voucher programs. Participants receive an allowance of either trips, miles, or dollar amounts to use for school, religious trips, health care appointments, shopping, and other categories. These vouchers might be awarded on economic status or based on mental or physical faculty.
Each town, city, municipality, or state runs its voucher programs differently, and there aren’t necessarily voucher programs in every place. Check with the local governments or use the Eldercare Locator to see if there’s one in your area.
Frequently operated by faith-based organizations, these programs are a great way to get rides with customized pick-up and drop-off points with a volunteer driver who is kind and friendly. Just like all the other transportation options, the presence and availability of volunteer programs vary with location. Some may have limitations in distance or number of trips per week, and they definitely should only be used as non-emergency transportation.
One nice thing about volunteer programs is that volunteer drivers are frequently young people or family-oriented. Plus, they’re doing it entirely as a service, so they’re much more likely to be conversational and allow for more customized journeys.
There are also many programs, frequently operated by the public transit authority itself, that will introduce public transit and teach elderly people how to do it. If the loss of mobility isn’t severe or the elderly person is completely capable, then learning how to travel with public transit can be a fun learning experience. Of course, these programs are as limited as access to public transit is in the USA. But many cities have bus systems and might have travel training with a local area agency to help seniors get around on public transit on their own.
Where the budget allows, hiring an in-home caretaker might be the best way to ensure an aging loved one is protected and can still live normally. In many cases, the caretaker might have their own vehicle, so offering the client some transportation from time to time could be included in the payment. This will require discussion, but it’s not an unusual request for caretakers to occasionally drive clients around.
This option also gives elderly people the ability to have one person they’re familiar with helping them. Look out when shopping around for a caretaker, though. Many of them are working for home care services that want to maximize their client base to make more money, so the caretaker may only have an hour or less to visit and take care of meals and other things for the client. If you want transportation options with a family caregiver, it will probably have to be a private agreement for long-term care to make sure they’re concentrating on your loved one.
When an aging loved one can’t get around quickly enough, the choice to use other transportation options is clear. However, many older adults have trouble recognizing when they should give up driving in their own personal vehicles. It can be a tough choice because, as we all remember from our teenage years, driving is tantamount to personal freedom.
In one article, the University of Alabama recommends asking two questions to help determine whether alternative transportation options are needed.
These two questions are a helpful test of mobility loss because it still leaves the person in question in control. Hearing that you can’t drive anymore from a doctor is one thing, but admitting it to yourself on your own terms is more manageable.
Also, remember that failing eyesight and mental ability, including reaction time and spatial awareness, can also affect the decision to stop driving or to use more independent transportation options like public transit. It will take some serious consideration, but in the end, it will depend on the unique condition of the elderly person.
Finding a low-cost transportation option for seniors can be challenging, especially in areas without public transit options. Senior citizens have many options for scheduling transportation, or they may have access to travel training programs that can show them how to use public transit.
For those who are uncomfortable or not capable of making their way to a bus stop and navigating the fixed-route transit system in their city, there are also options from Medicaid and volunteer programs that work to fill the gaps.
Deciding to stop driving is painful and emotionally challenging for many senior citizens. Transportation needs don’t change just because we can no longer drive ourselves. However, when that time comes, there are still plenty of other transportation options that allow aging loved ones to get around on their own or with help so they can spend their golden years the way they want.